Culture

Kapoor’s Berlin show is dark as its history

BERLIN: Blood-red bricks of wax are shifted by conveyor belts up metal chutes toward the center of an atrium before thudding down and splattering like entrails. A giant, sun-like dark red disk hovers above the ever-growing heaps of wax splodges.

This is the matter of “Symphony for a Beloved Sun,” a monumental new installation created by artist Anish Kapoor, which opens his first major exhibit in Berlin.

“Kapoor in Berlin” includes works that the Turner prize-winning artist has created specifically for the show as well as a selection of other provocative sculptures dating back to the ’80s, made with wax, steel, resin, stone and mirrors.

The artworks range from frightening installations like “Symphony” – which recalls the industrialised murder of 6 million human beings, most of them Jews, during the Holocaust – to playfully curved or geometrically fragmented mirrors which one might find in an amusement park.

“It refers to the history of this place,” British curator and art historian Norman Rosenthal told Reuters, “obliquely to the Holocaust, and to Russian Constructivists.”

The Gropius Bau is housed in an elegant neo-Renaissance pile destroyed in World War II and re-opened only in 1981. It is located next to the former site of the headquarters of the Gestapo, Nazi Germany’s murderous secret police.

From the windows, visitors can also glimpse a stretch of the Berlin Wall that divided Western and communist Eastern Germany throughout the Cold War.

“You can see each of those red bricks as incorporating the innards of dead spirits,” Rosenthal said, “and there are lots of them in this part of the world.”

Kapoor is one of Britain’s most renowned contemporary sculptors. He created the country’s biggest piece of public art with his controversial, 22 million pound ($33.31 million) spiraling red tower for London’s Olympic Park.

The artist was born and raised in India to an Iraqi-Jewish mother and a Hindu father.

“Inevitably [the installation] does have some relation to this site,” Kapoor told Reuters, “to this city, to this country, to its history.”

One German paper noted that the Swastika symbol adopted by the Nazis, signifies the sun in some civilizations and in the Hindu tradition is a symbol for good fortune.

The 59-year old artist said that he did not want to convey a narrative or statement with his work. Rather, the process of the artwork should yield a deeper meaning.

“I was born and brought up in India. My work is Indian and not Indian,” he said. “Similarly, Jewishness is one of those things that is there present as a reality but it’s not something I directly draw upon.”

The show includes some of Kapoor’s classic works such as “Shooting into the Corner,” in which a canon periodically fires a ball of red wax into a white corner, and “The Death of Leviathan,” a gargantuan maroon PVC balloon that sprawls through several rooms.

Kapoor said the deflating piece evoked “the death of the state, the decline of the state” being experienced in Europe and beyond, the idea that the individual has to take on the responsibility for tasks previously assumed by the state.

The London-based artist said the British government was failing to acknowledge the importance of the arts and education sector and offer adequate financial support. “It needs to pull its socks up,” he said, “and do something, take on a kind of responsibility.”

The exhibition feels something like an amusement park at times, with its halls of mirrors and the cave-like sculptures made with stone or warty resin evocative of ear wax that visitors can peer through.

Other artworks are like optical illusions. In “When I’m Pregnant,” a subtle bulge emerges from the white wall, while the black disk in the middle of the floor in “Descent into Limbo” seems to be a gaping hole opening into a bottomless pit.

Rosenthal said Kapoor was constantly playing with the tension between the idea of a black hole and a certain density, “a kind of infinity that is unbelievably beautiful.”

“Kapoor in Berlin” runs until Nov. 24 at Berlin’s Martin Gropius Bau exhibition hall.

 

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